The divide between OEL Manga and Artist’s Alley
My friend/colleague Deb Aoki has been publishing a fantastic series of articles about the state of OEL Manga/manga-inspired comics over here on her About.com page. If you are an artist and you haven’t read Deb’s work yet, do yourself a favor and go read it. Go now.
Since I’ve written about artists in the community and can usually be found in the alley at conventions, I wanted to chime in on this topic because I think there are a few assumptions about the relationship between the OEL Manga scene and the Artist’s Alley scene that are a little… off (I’m also hoping that some of the pro artists I know will chime in on the topic as well). I’ll be touching upon some of the points made by Deb and other artists she’s referenced too. Here goes:
- People need to stop assuming that everyone in Artist’s Alley wants to draw manga professionally.
Sure, some people DO, but there are many, many artists in the alley who are content with simply being awesome illustrators. Vibrant, colorful work sells well, and many artists who sell their work in the Alley have been drawing digitally/with a tablet since their first entry into the genre. These are factors that I believe lend themselves to making the creation of prints, illustrations, and posters (original or otherwise) more appealing than creating a comic or manga. On that note…
- A lot of artists in the Alley have started careers they are happy with in other corners of the industry.
When I wrote for ANN, I interviewed more than fifty artists who draw in a manga-inspired style. While some of them are working in comics, many of them have found careers they are happy with elsewhere, in industries that are far more lucrative than publishing. About five of them are working on designs and art for game companies/publishers, while three are currently working for Gaia Online (which, despite your opinion of their site, is one of the few companies out there that doesn’t turn their noses up when people draw in the manga style). More than 20% of the artists I interviewed have also done freelance graphic design work, which (unlike other art-related fields) tends to pay a lot better than other work available to artists. So do these people have any interest in manga at all? Yes, but I believe there’s a reason they aren’t working with US publishers:
- A lot of talented artists are avoiding manga publishers intentionally.
The very publicized troubles of Tokyopop, the difficulty in getting your work noticed by other publishers, the abrupt death at Viz’s OEL program, failed startups, the lack of support from the industry as a whole… there are many, many issues that make working for an American publisher look like an unattractive option. Artists know plenty about the dysfunctional corners of this industry - hell, they probably know more than most of us - so the fact that some of them may not want to deal with such companies shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Furthermore, the idea that we should expect these artists to strive to work for these publishers is flat out ridiculous. You wouldn’t let the assistant manager at Burger King perform open-heart surgery on your mother even if everyone in the world told you it was the right thing to do. In fact, out of the artists I interviewed that do draw comics, they’ve found a better way to sell their work: by printing it themselves.
- Self-publishing has been embraced by many artists, with a good degree of success.
A good number of the artists I interviewed have published work themselves, either with the help of Kickstarter or other means, and some have been extremely successful. In fact, more than ten of the artists I interviewed have self-published their own comics or illustration collections.
- What works in Japan doesn’t always work elsewhere - why should we expect artists to function like their Japanese counterparts?
The industry knows this. Fans know this. Conventions… well, it’s hard to tell sometimes. The bottom line is this: the artists in this country have access to many of the same tools and equipment that Japanese artists use. What’s lacking is the resources and support that Japanese artists get. The audience is different, what sells is different, what’s popular is different, the kind of things professionals expect to see in an art portfolio is different… why should we expect artists in Artist’s Alley to play with any hand of cards other than the one they’ve been dealt?
So that’s my opinion - what’s yours? I’m hoping that a few of you can chime in and keep the discussion that Deb started going; honestly, it’s a conversation that’s long overdue.
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